Friday, July 3, 2009

No.39: Public School Music

"Apples with rosy cheeks grow in September.
Also the golden rod so tall and slender…"

These were the opening lines, and really all I remember, of a song we learned in public school music. Our teacher was the young and lovely Miss Betty Duvall who made everyone want to learn, just to please her. Joyner shared Miss Duvall with the other elementary schools, so we only had music about once a week. We met in the auditorium, sitting on the first three rows nearest the piano. Some songs were seasonal like “Little Jackie Jack Frost,” and others were traditional like “The Erie Canal” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “Clementine.” We learned basic music notation and rhythm, all of which was a lot easier for the girls and the few boys who took piano lessons. But mostly we just sang and sang. Sometimes we practiced songs for a play we would perform in the auditorium for the rest of the school and a handful of parents.

And then one day when we were in the fifth grade Miss Duvall passed out our flutophones, magically simple instruments that made virtuosos out of even the most musically challenged of us. Each flutophone was packaged in its own box so you could be sure no one else had ever had it in his mouth. The flutophone had seven holes along the top that you played with the first three fingers of your left and right hands and the little finger of your right hand. The instrument rested on your two thumbs, and the left thumb played the hole on the bottom side of the instrument. Cover the hole completely and you made beautiful music that could charm a cobra out of a basket; otherwise you made a screech that made everyone around you wince. Over and over we practiced “Lightly Row” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” until even the worst of us had some mastery of the instrument.

The only time I remember our ever playing them in public was in our fifth grade graduation exercises when we joined with the other fifth grade class in a mass flutophone orchestra. “Lightly row, lightly row; o’er the shining waves we go …” We were magnificent, or at least that’s the way I choose to remember it.

Fifth grade graduation at Joyner, May 1963
To recall the sound of a flutophone concert, try the following link:
(We were much better.)


  1. John - I am visiting with Molly Hurt Johnson in Denver and we laughed until we cried watching the flutophone concert. I'm sure we were much better, probably some harmony, too.

    Anyway, Molly has some photos of some good lookin', skinny kids hanging around our pool. We'll scan and send some.

    You're doing a great job!!

    caye and molly

  2. I'm looking forward to the photos.

  3. Kay Smith Jerome (THS Class of 1967) emailed the following comment:

    I loved my flutophone. And I still know the words to “Blue Skies and Fleecy Clouds Come in September.”

  4. Was Miss Duvall the woman who told us ghost stories (The Bell Witch and stuff)? I remember an itinerant music teacher who was really fun and full of life (so very different from my other teachers)coming to Rankin when I was in 5th or 6th grade (I'm class of 68)- what a breath of fresh air she was!

  5. Wow. 5th grade graduation photo-amazed I recognize so many people. I remember the songs we sang at that graduation, and I agree that we were amazing that day!! I think that white headband was part of my daily uniform that year!Remember the hummingbirds?